In grad school, I took a statistics course in Sociology, which was outside of my faculty. The first assignment was worth 5%. It took over twenty pages to complete.
Ziggy, a grad student within the Sociology Department, skipped the first assignment while I sunk hours into completing it. Most every 5% assignment thereafter took at least twenty pages, each assignment building on the last.
During the course, I asked a lot of stupid questions—really stupid questions like, “What is a case?” halfway through a lecture on surveys. The professor replied, “You’re a case,” and the class howled.
But the laughter died the final week.
On the final week of the course, the professor escorted out the door 40% of the class, all of whom had withdrawn or failed. Of all the people from external faculties, I was the only one left. Many others from within the Sociology Department were escorted out. One sociology guy yelled at me an obscenity as he got ushered out the door.
When Ziggy entered the room, the professor asked Ziggy to leave, but Ziggy reminded him that they had an “arrangement.” Ziggy couldn’t believe I was still in the class, so the professor asked me to give Ziggy advice. In front of the class, I told Ziggy that, if I hadn’t done that first 5% assignment, I would’ve bombed. What I learned in that first assignment built the groundwork for every assignment that followed.
Ziggy slapped his forehead. He had the brains, he had the background, but not the study habits. Ziggy learned his lesson.
But Ziggy could’ve flourished if he monitored his learning process. The course Learning to Learn from The Open University teaches us just that: how to learn.
According to this course from the Open University, there’s a 4-phase process for effective learning: preparing, exploring, implementing, and reviewing. These phases may overlap, but you never want to overlook a single phase.
Let’s dissect each phase:
Phase 1: Preparing
“In this phase, you are encouraged to pause and think ahead about how and when you will tackle both studying the material and the assessment task itself” (17%).
At AU, I took an unstructured project-based course. Near the end of the course, I was unaware of what was expected of me in the assignments. It took me ages to find the grading rubrics, which were buried deep within the site. Mix that with anxiety attacks, and you’ve got brewing a hyperlink phobia.
(I wished that AU had taken their online curriculum and put it in Amazon e-book format. I find e-books make learning easier than online screens. But you may have a different learning style than I. Hey, you might prefer to put on a lab coat, rubber gloves, and dig in. That’s if you’re a kinesthetic. And if you’re a kinesthetic who likes woodwork, why aren’t you studying to be a surgeon?)
The Open University says to do the following to prep for your courses:
“Scan through your course material, looking at section headings, activities etc. Check any other components of the course …. This could be other reading, audio-visual material, or electronic texts. Then look at the assignment. Take particular note of any guidance you’ve been given. This may have been given verbally by your tutor or in student notes. Also look at the criteria that will be used in marking it” (20%).
After that, create your action plan: “An action plan can be just a list of things to do, a chart giving deadlines, a diagram showing how the various parts of your plan interact, or a set of sticky notes on a sheet [or on a calendar]” (21%). I recommend you print off an online calendar, a single page per month. Tape the pages on your wall. Write the deadlines in red ink and color the calendar square. Then put colorful sticky notes on your calendar that layout your action plan. Oh yeah, I forgot, it’s 2020: there’s an app for that.
Phase 2: Exploring
“Exploring is the phase when most of your studying is done … and preparing for the assignment” (18%).
A professor asked us to come up with metaphors for learning. I said learning was like climbing a mountain, but sticking close to the professor guide. But that was 2001. Internet didn’t exist back then. Okay, it did. (I knew you’d remember playing Donkey Kong on the Web at age two.)
But my point is that the Internet gives us a ton of supplementary tools to aid our learning. Use as many as you find helpful in carving your A.
The Open University says exploring “may include … reading or media components, possibly attending a tutorial, accessing any other information that you need and making notes or records of it” (24%).
But to get top grades, you want to know it all. That means mastering whatever makes you stumble. “Knowing when help is needed and where to go for it is important …. Check if there are any skills workshops or supplementary materials available ….. Some courses offer help online – make sure you know what is available and make use of it. Other sources of help may be informal – other students, self-help groups, friends or colleagues” (24%).
Phase 3: Implementing
“Implementing covers the actual doing of your assignment” (18%).
This is why you should print out your grading rubric, frame it, photograph it, and read it every night before prayers: It could mean the difference between an A and a C. The Open University says, “Make sure you check and re-check any guidelines or criteria given and any student notes or guidance you’ve received …. It is very easy to lose sight of the question as you immerse yourself in study and then rush into producing the assignment. Advice in student notes and grading criteria are sometimes ignored by students who then cannot understand why their grades are disappointing” (27%).
“Reviewing is the phase when your work is returned” (18%).
I bet your papers and exams bring you pride. If not, just think of the poor young lady who had severe exam anxiety, who got pigeon-holed in a faculty that had few, if any, exams. That’s where I was heading, too, at AU. Most everyone, though, make mistakes on exams. Even top students make errors. So, what do you do when faced with red X’s?
According to the Open University, you should “go back to the feedback and comments from your tutor and re-read it. Can you understand what your tutor is saying? On a separate sheet of paper, or at the end of the assignment, write down one or two main points – pieces of advice; mistakes you see you made; things to remember – points which you need to bear in mind when you write the next assignment or when you revise for your exam. Make a note of anything that still puzzles you; comments which confuse you; criticism you feel is unjustified etc.” (33%).
So, what does this all have to do with Ziggy and me? Well Ziggy failed to do the assignment; I, at AU, failed to prep properly for the course. You see, missing just one phase in the process can topple our success. So, reread the above phases to plan your surefire future: the donning of your cap and gown.